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A stack of drop boards with a magnifying lamp and 3.0 reading glasses
used for detecting and examining varroa mites

Safety Warning: Don't leave magnifiers where the sun can shine though them.
Lenses will start fires if the sun angle is right if and combustible
material happens to be in the wrong spot

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Tuesday November 1st 2011
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Yesterday and the day before were warm and today is cool.  The mite drops are back on trend, leaving that one anomalous day with drops double the trend. How can it be explained?  Possibly robbing encouraged better grooming, but also the number of callow (pale) mites was up drastically and they can only be  the result of hatching brood, so I am guessing that 21 days back something encouraged some of the queens to lay extra hard just that one day or something encouraged the phoretic mites to invade cells more aggressively in just a 24-hour stretch of time. 

Otherwise, the blip could be regarded as a fluke, but 5 out of the 6 hives independently showed unusually large drops. One could also suggest that the bees were just cleaning more in the warm spell, and discarding some brood, and that is possible, especially if there was some drone brood, but that does not seem likely to me, although we did see more debris that day.

Could I be seeing an invasion of varroa-laden bees from a collapsing hive?  If so, that does not seem to explain the accompanying increase in young mites that one day.  Also, if that were the case, the higher drops should have continued into today, which did not happen.

Looking at the data, It seems the heavy smoking the other day had no noticeable effect on mite drops in hive #2, so we can lay that idea to rest, at least as far as burlap smoke is concerned.


click to enlarge


click to enlarge

  Young Mites /Total Mites
Hive Number 1 2 3 4 5 6
Oct 26 2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12
Oct 29 0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13
Oct 30 0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18
Oct 31 0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13
Nov 1 0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

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Wednesday November 2nd 2011
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click to enlarge


click to enlarge

  Young Mites /Total Mites
Hive Number 1 2 3 4 5 6
Oct 26 2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12
Oct 29 0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13
Oct 30 0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18
Oct 31 0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13
Nov 1 0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4
Nov 2 0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

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Thursday November 3rd 2011
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I'm thinking that I will continue monitoring, but count the drops every two days now that a pattern has been established, until I treat again, then go daily.  I'm not sure how useful it is to present a chart every day.  Most people who do drops average over three days or more.

I have been looking at the idea of getting a USB microscope, but other suggestions have come in, too, so maybe I'll present somewhere when I have some time.  This morning, though, I'm off to Red Deer, but first (I can't help myself) I did the counts for today, two hours early and adjusted the number by 24/22.  The daily drops are falling...


click to enlarge

I did not bother with individual charts today, but here are the "young" counts. The individual charts are a lot of extra work and only need updating weekly, IMO.

  Young Mites /Total Mites
Hive Number 1 2 3 4 5 6
Oct 26 2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12
Oct 29 0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13
Oct 30 0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18
Oct 31 0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13
Nov 1 0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4
Nov 2 0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1
Nov 3 0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

This whole exercise took me a half-hour today.

Ellen has an appointment in Red Deer, so we drove up and afterwards went to jean's for Chris' birthday supper and then stayed the night.

Mortality of Varroa jacobsoni Oudemans during or soon after the emergence of worker and drone honeybees Apis mellifera L - N Lobb S Martin

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Friday November 4th 2011
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We awoke in Lacombe this morning  at 6:30, dressed and drove to Red Deer where Ellen had an early morning appointment.  I had been up during the night and noticed that snow had fallen, but really had no idea how cold and icy it was out.  We decided to leave early to allow extra time d found that the traffic on the QE2 was crawling along at 80.  So, even with an extra ten or fifteen minutes, we barely made our destination on time.

I spent he morning shopping and bought some winter clothes since I had left home in sandals and a light shirt.  I also had intended to buy a TV.  My mind was set on a cheapy, but after some consideration, I bought a 42" LED Smart TV.  I'm thinking I'll be using the Internet more than the broadcast system and we do not have cable.  I'm not inclined to put up satellite again although I have two dishes and receivers.  I simply do not watch any TV that has commercials.  I wonder if I will weaken in that regard. 

What happens is that I start watching something and then a huge string of repetitive commercials comes along and I turn the machine off.  Commercials which seem clever and even enlightening the first time or two become insulting quite quickly.

I picked up Ellen at noon and we drove back to Swalwell.  On arrival, I checked the drop boards.  It was 2:15.  That is 5-1/2 hours over the 24 I usually use for a drop, but I'll adjust the numbers accordingly.  I was going to do fewer checks and skip today, but since the temperature has dropped so drastically, and so fast, I think this reading could be interesting.

Here it is, and the drop has returned to trend, regardless of the temperature.  Why the huge glitch just before the change???


click to enlarge

I have had some time to think, and have been pondering some comments on the Honey Bee World Forum the other day, along with Jean-Pierre Chapleau's mention that most beekeepers miss half the mites when counting -- and comparing that the simple fact that we never saw more than about 5 to 8 mites on drop boards in fall and those boards were in for more than a day at a time.

So, I put on a strong pair of drugstore reading glasses and counted.  Next, I used the setup shown at the top of this page.  Then I asked Ellen to count the way she used to.  (She says here eyes are not great today). Here is what I got:

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6 Average
Allen 3.0 Glasses, natural light 2 4 7 15 9 6 7
Magnifier plus glasses 2 9 15 37 23 9 16
Ellen Ellen's count 2 13 10 51 17 9 17

I had Ellen recount the "51" board under the magnifier and she got "39", which is close to my count.  That board had a lot of debris and that was confusing without strong magnification.  Nonetheless, she did not usually underestimate.  She was close and tended to overestimate if anything.

Ellen was the mite counter back then.  We collected the boards and brought them in and she scanned them.  Something to consider is that the boards we used were the size of sheets of standard foundation and therefore did not collect from under the entire cluster.

"What is your point?', one might ask.  It is simply this: Counting mites is not a precision exercise and depends a lot on who is counting and how, and what is considered a mite  In this instance, we were both aware that our performance was being evaluated.  Usually, this results in higher accuracy than observed under everyday conditions.

When we read studies, we are reading the work of people who are probably more conscientious about seeing every mite, but, maybe not.  Grad students and assistants come and go, and vary in scrupulousness.  Moreover, different people may have differing opinions on which mites to count or abilities to see -- or count.

If the average beekeeper counts the way I did with just the glasses and no magnifier and no extra light assisting, he could be seeing less than half the mites.  If he gave the job to his wife, though, he could be within a tiny fraction of the real number :)

This whole exercise evolved from my not seeing mites on the drop board, and I have to assume that there were at least some earlier than when I first observed them.  Since I had been able to see the dark mites in bright sunlight on bottom boards and on pupae last year and been observing mites of all shades in alcohol very competently last year in my job as bee inspector, I failed to realise that my vision had deteriorated sufficiently that I was missing them. 

Fortunately, my vision seems much better in the past week and I do not need reading glasses to see the tiny typefaces on my phone, to read, or to work on the computer.  I don't know what made things fuzzy for a while, but I can see normally -- for me -- again.

What Is Critical Reading?

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Saturday November 5th 2011
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It is -16 C (-4 F) at 6 AM today.  That is a huge drop from the plus 15 daytime temperatures experienced last week, but typical for this time of year.  I recall snow on Halloween almost every year and snow and ice the week of the Alberta Beekeepers convention every year.

Our dishwasher has been getting weaker and weaker.  Some time back, I took a look at it and tried to figure out the problem.  It seemed a bit better, but today it had not cleaned the top rack at all, so I Googled "whirlpool quiet partner not washing on top" and found this and this

I had not opened up the sump on my previous effort, since we had bought a premium unit and been assured at the time that the machine has a chopper to deal with food and such to prevent blockage.  This time, I disassembled the sump under the screen and found what looked like a bit of debris and hardly enough to prevent proper function, but after cleaning it out, the machine much is noisier again.  It is gurgling and throwing light items around inside the way it used to, so I think I fixed it.

At upper left is the sump after I cleaned out the debris.  The chopper and its screen are just set on top for the moment and the screen slides down into a groove in the sump.  A louvered cover, secured by one screw, goes over it.  You can see the pump shaft just at water level.  It has a black rubber socket to drive the chopper shaft.  In the picture,  have removed the top screen, then the chopper and the secondary screen and the cover that encloses the chopper and screen and the debris from the sump.  The cover has five or six sizable louvers and they were entirely plugged with paper pulp and dried soap.  Apparently, it is necessary to clean these machines out every few years.

The debris (left) included a toothpick, a lock tab off a bottle and a label from fruit.  In addition, there was paper pulp from labels on bottles we washed.  The pulp and chunks of dishwasher powder were blocking the chopper screen .  We had a brand of dishwasher soap one time that clumped up in the box and it seems that it did the same in the machine.  There were pieces of soap  in the sump that looked like teeth and some screen holes were blocked with dry powder.


click to enlarge


click to enlarge

Above are individual charts for hives #1 to # 6, in that order

Young Mites /Total Mites

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6

Oct 26

2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12

Oct 29

0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13

Oct 30

0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18

Oct 31

0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13

Nov 1

0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

Nov 2

0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

Nov 3

0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

Nov 4

 0/2 0/9 4/15 20/37 8/23 0/9

Nov 5

0/2 0/6 3/16 12/25 0/1 0/2

I decided to colour-code the table above and used red for counts above 20 total, yellow for 10-19, and green for 9 or less.  That reveals a pattern of sorts.

I also used the table above, interpreting the young mite to total mite ratio as an indicator of brood rearing.

Looking at the individual charts (second above) and the young/total drop tabulation (immediately above), we can see that

  • Hive one had little brood according to the young/total ratio and dropped almost no young mites.  It either has shut down brood rearing or is queenless. It  dropped most of its mites right after the fogging.  It also had the lowest total mite load.  (See red line in the graphs above).

  • Hive  two also dropped almost no young mites. Hive two has had very little brood all along according to the young/total ratio and dropped most of its mites right after the fogging.  (See blue line in the second graph above).

  • Hive three has had a lot of brood all along and, although it drops consistently high numbers, its total drop  over time ranks the second lowest! (See red line in the third graph above).  Nonetheless, it has not received adequate treatment due to survival of mites concealed in sealed brood and will need another dose, whereas some others would be fine without.

  • Hive four seems to be continuing with brood and therefore keeps dropping mites since many mother mites are protected under cappings.  The  consistently high number of pale mites is the giveaway.   Along with number two, it seems to have had the highest initial load as well.  (See red line in the fourth graph above).  This hive presents a problem, especially if the brood rearing does not cease soon.

  • Hive five has had an interesting pattern.  It began with a moderate infestation, dropped lots of mites some time after the fogging, then had another peak later. Brood rearing seems to have been shut down and we are seeing some tail-end emergence. and drastically declining drops.  I am wondering if this hive has some natural varroa resistance.

  • Hive six also has little brood emerging at this point, judging by the young/old ratio, and is only dropping a few mites daily

We can see that four hives -- 1,2, 5, and 6 -- responded well to the oxalic vapour and that it had a beneficial effect on all hives  Another treatment will benefit all hives, and be necessary for hives three and four. 

Hopefully, this cold weather has curtailed the brood rearing.  It takes up to twenty-one days for worker brood underway to emerge, and twelve days for sealed brood to emerge.  In examining the debris on the floors, I am not seeing signs of brood being removed, but from the charts above, we are seeing the inferred amount of brood declining. 

These hives are extremely well-fed and warmly housed. Some have new queens in July and are still making up for a late start.  Since we have a mix of old queens and new queens and a variety of stock from some very Italian looking stock from BC and some Saskatraz and also a few California dark queens in the mix, variability is to be expected.

Brood emergence could all end suddenly, or the brood areas could just diminish.  Some hives never entirely cease brood rearing and they could prove to be a problem.  Perhaps in breeding bees for the north, a definite broodless period could be a goal.

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Sunday November 6th 2011
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It's minus eleven Celsius this morning and predictions are for temps down to minus eighteen coming up.  That should make for interesting mite drops.  I see we hit minus twenty sometime in the last twenty-four hours.  That's minus four point four on the Fahrenheit scale.

I had plugged the flight/vent holes in the hives a few days back due to some robbing activity but plan to remove them now for two reasons:

  • In my experiments with EPS boxes, I found that the bees did not do really well until I drilled a 1" auger hole in each box.  (I actually drilled two, one front and one back since the boxes get turned around and I plug the back hole with a 1" Caplug).  I think the bees in the insulated hives are too isolated from the environment  to respond to changing conditions if openings are not provided.  Without holes, they tend to be late building up in spring.

  • I was also seeing quite a bit of moisture condensing up top under the pillows, even in fall, and that indicates a need for more airflow.

Moisture condensing above the cluster is bad news for wintering bees, especially if the cluster is down in the hive and not up top where it can cover the underside of the lid and prevent the condition.  Over time, moisture forms blocks of ice under the lid and builds up and up until, some warm day, it thaws and drops rain on the cluster and soaks the hive interior.  Strong hives can withstand that, but weak ones die.

That is one reason that top insulation is the most important winter insulation, and hives with only a chunk of pink insulation in a garbage bag under the lid will do far better than a hive with no insulation at all.  This true even if there is a vent under the lid.

That reminds me that I only have one pillow on the wintering hives and I usually use three or four.  I'll have to add pillows and bricks today, too.  I had planned to also move some more of the new comb down, but that opportunity may now have passed. 

When I do move new comb down or remove it this late, I make sure not to disturb the cluster or move frames in the vicinity of the cluster.  I just take a whole box off, or leave everything as-is.

> I do have one question............. On your web-page you have a picture of palletized hives. They are in rows and the pallets are real close side by side. I assume, this is for winter purposes to conserve heat.

> Is this assumption correct and do you do other applications to these rows for winter.

Heat conservation was a consideration, but conserving the cost of making wraps was a major purpose. That design uses much less material.

> Here in N. Carolina, we have shorter and warmer winters than you. Over the past 3 or 4 years, we have had much colder

> winters. Our pallets are sat out independently and not wrapped. Our hive losses have risen because the smaller clusters couldn't move up on there honey. I'm taking your lead and overwintering my hives in rows.

In my experience, the most important tricks to good wintering is

  • Strong, healthy colonies. If colonies are too weak or marginal, double them up. They'll be splittable in spring.  Don't wait until he last minute to double them up.  They need time to adjust before cold weather.

  • More than enough good feed in the proper position, i.e. the top box.  It should be full of honey.

  • Adequate ventilation, but not too much and only from one surface of the hive (i.e. the front). All other sides must be sealed.

  • A wintering location that is not in a hole and not too windy or shaded or likely to have pests.

  • If insulation is used, then the most important insulation is on the top, followed by the north, west and east sides in that order.

I'm suspecting that if the honey is not up with the bees, they have not had adequate time to settle and arrange their stores.  They will always pack it overhead in fall. 

Colonies need to be fed and left undisturbed (no frames moved around by the beekeeper) for at least a month of above-freezing weather to get everything in place.

I decided it is time to move the hives the the winter location south of the Quonset where they are protected better from the winds.  The weather is cold enough they won't drift back.  So, I took three pallets down there and opened the auger holes when I arrived.  I had expected bees to boil out after the ride, but they were pretty quiet.  I am thinking that is not a good sign.  I still have to get the last pallets ready to  move.  It is beautiful day, calm, and right around the freezing point.   All in all it is a perfect day for getting some things done outside.


click to enlarge

Young Mites /Total Mites

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6

Oct 26

2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12

Oct 29

0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13

Oct 30

0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18

Oct 31

0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13

Nov 1

0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

Nov 2

0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

Nov 3

0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

Nov 4

 0/2 0/9 4/15 20/37 8/23 0/9

Nov 5

0/2 0/6 3/16 12/25 0/1 0/2

Nov 6

0/3 0/1 1/5 8/19 0/2 0/5

The drops are tapering off, but Hive four continues high.  I did notice, though that there were fewer young mites and that they were younger than usual, and all on one square,  This could be a sign that the remaining brood is is reducing down to a small area.

I also checked the scale.  It has dropped 20 pounds since last reading on October 26th.  That is eleven days ago, so the loss is 20/11/3 = about 0.6 lbs per hive per day.  Over six months until May, that rate would amount to 110 lbs per hive!  We know that is not going to be the case.  Weight loss is higher in fall due to reduction in brood area and larger populations, plus more activity than mid-winter.

I moved three entire pallets first, in late morning, then did some other yard chores.  I brought in the pond aerator and the garden hoses and leveled the ramp to the coal bin.

Late in the day, I decided to move another pallet, but all the rest had only three hives each.  One pallet had been prepared except for the one missing hive, so I looked at the next pallet and found a hive with mostly foundation in the top box.  The foundation box lifted off easily in the cold and there were no bees in it. 

The box below was all white and quite well drawn, filled and capped, but I did not want it on top, so I lifted it over onto the empty spot on the pallet I was working on.  That box was heavy, and there were a few bees on the bottom since the cluster likes to locate itself where it is mostly in one box, but clinging onto the bottom inch of the one above.  Due the cold and lack of action, they were sluggish and I moved the box over and placed it on the floor with an entrance reducer in place without losing even one bee. 

The remaining two boxes were original brood chambers with the cluster and stores on darker comb, so I lifted them, complete, onto the first box, so that white comb box was on bottom and will supply spring feed and also raise the hive up. 

I then moved the complete pallet of four to join the other three pallets at the south location.  That leaves the scale hives and the experimental hives to deal with.  Those 9 hives and a probable dead one are on three pallets, with three hives each.  I'll make up two complete pallets and have a half-pallet, too.

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Monday November 7th 2011
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It is minus nine this morning and predicted to be sunny.  Ellen and I have trip scheduled to Red Deer again for further tests.

Today is the first day of the Alberta Beekeepers Convention.  I decided not to go this year, back when I first looked at the scant information presented and the preponderance of employer-related material over beekeeping content  that appeared to be planned at the time.  Since then, I have found other reasons to miss this year, but I was disappointed in what I saw at the time.

In addition to a poor presentation of the proposed content of the Convention, people are complaining about the expense, and not necessarily just poor people.  People who are prudent about costs find this event far too lavish.  Add up the cost, and it is clear that an equally good job could be done for about half the current total cost to attending members.

We used to meet in smaller hotels with more flexibility and lower costs and had meetings which were just as good-- or better.  The Fantasyland Hotel is a comfortable venue for the organizers and some attendees, and a few families prefer it due to its integration with West Edmonton Mall, but maybe it is time to re-think the venue again.

Apparently, in addition, a one-day attendance is not listed in the pricing, I am told by some who were looking for how that might work.  I am wondering myself in case I decide to run up for a day to see friends or attend the business meeting.

I know that if I show up, I'll have no trouble and that everyone will be accommodating, but I'm an "insider".  I'm a longtime member, a past board member, and an award recipient -- and I know everyone and don't find anyone intimidating.    Outsiders don't know that, however, that they will be welcomed and given every consideration, as I am sure they will.  That needs to be emphasized again and again on every promotion.

 How can an ABC member legally attend the AGM (which should be a right of membership) without having to attend the  convention as a whole -- and purchasing meals which are included? 

This is not made clear.  It should be.

Perhaps the final programme will be more interesting and from the last-minute program that just arrived on the eve of the meeting, it could be, but the Alberta Beekeepers always have insisted on doing a terrible job of promoting the meeting in advance, even in the face of repeated criticism and pleas to explain in detail what is planned, even if it is not final.  (For that matter, it never is final.  Even after the Convention starts, there are always changes, so that is no excuse for doing a bad job.)

The excuse?  "Well, everyone knows what the convention is like and the routine presentations don't need mentioning well in advance."  Well, that is simply not true.  Many, many beekeepers, wannabees, staff and family have no idea at all what they could gain -- or contribute.

Moreover, it seems the group is lapsing back to catering to a central group of large commercial beekeepers and excluding -- or at least not encouraging -- the hobbyists and employees and sideliners, and those who fit none of those slots -- all very important parts of the industry --  by their assumptions as to costs and packaging.  We've been there before and it took a huge effort to get the point where the group enjoyed almost 100% industry approval, from hobby to commercial. 

The preferential pricing for spouses does not take into consideration other possible family configurations which are equally valid, either, for that matter.

I don't think the apparent drift away from being member-centric and proactive in consulting the less-connected members of the industry is deliberate, but more a matter of lack of leadership and understanding.  There is a cycle in these things and we are into the decline again.

  • An organization starts out with clear goals and grows by being inclusive and recruiting membership by being consultive and responsive.

  • Over time, especially if it is well-funded, an organization tends to become increasing complacent and inward-looking and increasing assumes that the views and needs of the in-group are representative.

  • Over time, the organization fails to renew itself and loses interest in consulting the "fringes".  Those fringes include the minor operators, the hobbyists, the employees, and others associated with the industry.  Often, they are the potential producers and leaders of tomorrow.

  • Sometimes a toxic leader or an ineffective leader is elected, especially if the membership or attendance at elections has dwindled, and the organization degenerates to schisms and/or designing cookbooks.

  • Original focus is lost and minor matters take up a great deal of the attention of the core.  Money is wasted on boondoggles and costs of participation increase beyond the reach of the less wealthy members.

Then

  • At some point, there is a  dwindling away or revolt , depending on the structure of the organization.

  • At that point, new leaders emerge who understand the need to include everyone and to communicate well with even the least prominent members of the industry rather than taking it for granted that everyone can read their minds.

  • The organization, often through crisis, again becomes inclusive and membership-driven and flourishes.  It is again respected and supported by virtually everyone.

  • These new leaders expand the vision and the scope of the organization again.

And the cycle repeats...

While I am grousing, I'm betting that in spite of this particular rudeness having been discussed over and over, the valuable door prizes will be handed out with no credit to the sponsor or description of the item.  I don't know why the sponsors bother, frankly.  The least they are owed is an enthusiastic mention and a description of the item and its uses when the draw is made and while the winner is walking up to get the item.

Back to mite observations:


click to enlarge

Here are today's drops, taken four hours early and adjusted for that fact.

Young Mites /Total Mites

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6

Oct 26

2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12

Oct 29

0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13

Oct 30

0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18

Oct 31

0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13

Nov 1

0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

Nov 2

0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

Nov 3

0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

Nov 4

 0/2 0/9 4/15 20/37 8/23 0/9

Nov 5

0/2 0/6 3/16 12/25 0/1 0/2

Nov 6

0/3 0/1 1/5 8/19 0/2 0/5

Nov 7

0/0 0/1 0/5 21/40 0/2 0/2

Hive #4 remains a curiosity, with high and normal mite drop at time of treatment then showing continuing high drops right to present day. 

Brood continues to emerge, even though the other hives no longer show signs of having emerging brood. 

Four was a smaller hive, having been in two boxes until I donated a full box from another hive, and  placed it  underneath for extra space and feed.  Four has dropped more mites than any other, at 1305 to date.

The other hives seem to have few mites, with estimates ranging from 100 to 500.  It will be interesting to see what the next fogging, scheduled for Thursday afternoon brings. 

Maybe I'll remember to make a video!

Please comment in the Honey Bee World Forum, or write me if you have trouble with registration  -- or you are shy. 

If you do find problems with the forum, though, please do write me just to let me know, so I can fix it.

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Tuesday November 8th 2011
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It is 3:13 AM and I find I am awake after five or six hours of good sleep, so why not write?  I don't worry about being awake in the middle of the night.  If find I am awake and not dropping back to sleep, I sometimes write for an hour, have a coffee and maybe breakfast, then go back to bed until seven or eight.  I'm told that is is actually a normal pattern for older people.

In my work examining fallen varroa, I am finding that the better the lighting, the easier and more accurate the job.  So far, the best light seems to be the direct light of the sun, slanted across the boards.   I am sure that some artificial light compares or even excels the sun, but I don't have it handy.  I'll have to investigate.

When I began, I was rather casual about the mite counting process and assumed that mites are mites and that they should be as obvious today as they were my younger eyes a decade ago or as obvious on a drop board as they are in an alcohol wash.   I soon discovered, though, that I can no longer reliably see anything except the darkest mites by naked eye.  My vision has changed over the past decade. 

Also, my alcohol washes were performed outside in broad daylight, and the mites were at the bottom of a jar of clear liquid.  Moreover, the mites I saw in the washes were all successful phoretic adult female kites.  Some were a bit paler than others, and tan rather than red-brown, but they were all fully formed and had been alive and attached to bees moments before observation.  Not so the mites on a drop board.  Many of them are partially formed, non-viable, or dead at emergence.

After discovering that I was not seeing mites well, I began using drugstore reading glasses and could see mites better, but only after adopting the magnifier with built-in light ring did I begin the really see them all and clearly.  I think I can still improve my system, and that doing so could be of some value.

"How well do we have to see the mites and how accurate does our count have to be?", one might ask.  In my commercial days, mere ballpark estimate sorted into, "Nothing", "A few", "Of Concern", and "H*ly S*it!", was sufficient for our purposes and we mostly saw the first two categories.  I can't ever recall having seen the last while we were running thousands of hives.  Apistan worked back then.  We used one strip per hive a year in early spring.  I've described this elsewhere on this site.  In those days, we were less concerned about understanding the varroa than making sure our strips worked and if another simple application was indicated.

My answer to that question now is different from back then.  Varroa is proving a problem for me lately.  Apistan is reputed not to work any longer, and I am reluctant to use the commercial pesticides like Checkmite+ and Apivar and in hives. I lost hives last year, and am seeing mite levels this year that are above my comfort zone.  Whatever was working for me in previous hobby-beekeeping years -- heavy splitting and one oxalic drizzle a year -- is not working now, so I am wondering what is going on. 

As I am running large hives with lots of honey above the cluster, making hive inspection difficult after the spring period and since I really hate drowning bees in alcohol, and because we had such success with natural drops in my commercial years, I have gone back to that method of monitoring.

Natural drop is subject to some controversy and denigrated by many as a method of monitoring mite loads in colonies.  On the other hand, others claim natural drop to be a very accurate indicator of varroa in  hives.  I won't get into all the details here, but suffice it to say that it is all a question of time of year, amount of brood, the qualifications, the  knowledge and the assumptions of the observer, what required degree of accuracy is, and exactly what information is being sought.

As a result of the apparent conflict between my experience with drops in the past, the endorsements by several in Quebec, and Randy's mention that he could not find correlations, I have become intrigued and concluded that for real understanding, that tow things need to be know (at minimum) from natural drops: the total drop, and the number of pale and non-viable mites dropping.  There may be more.

My experience with alcohol washes has led me to conclude that individual samples from the same can be wildly different and that the correlation of individual alcohol samples can be as non-correlated to total mite loads as can individual natural drops, but natural drops, one the setup is in place are completely non-invasive and easy to do and there is no need to count past twenty-four, except in studies such as the one I am doing now.

For practical beekeeping, a count over the threshold indicates a need for intervention, plain and simple, and the next counts will be to see how well the treatment works.

Over time, my choice of boards and screens has changed.  I think there are pictures way back in the diary of the boards we used back then.  (yes, here they are). They were either a sheet of white foundation with a humped-up eight-mesh screen held on with two elastics elastic and a duct tape tab on front or a sheet of Coroplast with the same screen.  In either case, they were sprayed with Pam cooking oil.  We tested when the hives were in two boxes only, and the process was simply to tip the hive a bit and slip the board in, then pick it up on the next trip days later.

These screens only checked the centre 50% of the hive and were rough indicators.  We only did four hives per yard of twenty-four or forty.

Looking back, it seems I am re-inventing the wheel.  I have looked at this subject before, but not in this context , and not from the perspective of having high varroa populations and poor control.  Maybe I should just be biting the bullet and using Apivar like the smart beekeepers I know who are getting excellent varroa control the way I did back when I used Apistan.  I just don't like putting poisons into beehives and oxalic and formic are natural food constituents.  Fluvalinate, coumaphos and amitraz are not. 

Here are several old explorations of the topic.  One, Two.  In each case, scroll down until you see the pictures of drop boards.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

At dawn, it is minus two this morning.  Thursday, the day we plan to fog with oxalic again promises to be plus ten.  That is a little warmer than ideal, but should be OK.

I'm still looking at digital microscopes online.  It seems hard to get good descriptions of exactly how the various units work and the specs like depth of field, area of view, whether adjustments are by software or manual, etc.

I'll list some URLs here.  Any input is appreciated.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

Sometime back at the end of October, I asked the following on BEE-L:

We have brought this up before, but since then technology has marched on.

In my recent investigations of varroa in my hives, I have become aware of the need to be able to see the little rascals better. Apparently some of the dropped mites are alive, but I can't see that.

I remember when I was in John Harbo's lab in 2003, he had a dandy set-up for looking into cells and being able to watch on a computer or monitor.
Also see
http://www.honeybeeworld.com/diary/2003/diary011003.htm

I always wanted to duplicate that set-up since there was good depth of field and a group could watch the mites in action in armchair comfort.
Cost was a deterrent, though and I never did it.

Today, I was looking on
http://www.dhgate.com/wholesale/microscope.html#search
and I see quite a few options.

I thought I would share this with you and ask if anyone has any experience with any of these devices and can make recommendations.

If not, they they look cheap enough that I might just buy several and take a chance.

Talk to me.

Here is an answer:

Hi Allen.

I own a X200 magnification usb microscope details of which are attached, it cost about 30.

It is ok for most of the use it gets and is a useful tool when used in the classroom or in presentations at our local group meetings.
However for Nosema identification from slides X400 would be required.

Attached also is a picture of a mite taken with screen capture from the laptop.
Also a tripod holder with a clamp for the microscope which is quickly adjustable would be a great advantage.

Chris.

And another:

Allen,
 
I bought one (brand Bresser, price 40 euros) to look at Varroa family groups and count offspring.
 
It works perfectly for its price. However, the field of vision that you can take a picture of, is small. I have to manipulate the mites, lay them close to each other to take a family picture.
 
Takes too much time for hundreds of pupae. What I do is identify and count the offspring developmental stages with a normal binocular at 20X that shows everything in a square inch and take reference pictures with the USB-microscope.
 
The USB is easily good enough to look at damage to varroa or tracheal mites at higher magnification but the small field of vision hinders easy manipulation.
 
...
I mail you a reply off list, I don't have a link to show pictures.

We (Netherlands Centre for Bee research) are looking at differences in varroa reproductive success, isolated island with bad treatments versus mean rest of country.

Problem with the USB is that the mites have to lay within millimeters of each other, I say the field of vision of the bresser usb is less than 1 square centimeter. Very unhandy if you just want to count stages. Time consuming sticky and static electricity effects.

Attached are 2 pics: 1 bresser and 1 with a camera through the oculair of the normal binoc. Primitive set up but it works.

all the best,
Lennard

And another

> The USB microscopes you link to are total junk. The best is 2MP but they even list 1.3MP. These are basically a webcam repackaged. Total waste of money. They are digital zoom ... you will only get results with optical zoom. LED lighting to get any results ... fine... but they say there are 8 bulbs. They say nothing else. Probably these are 3w bulbs. No issue but not enough. I built an LED light for macro work and that has something like 65 LED bulbs. Nothing is said about the CMOS sensor but it is not going to be good. USB2.0 .. not new but established. Less data throughput.
>
> I think these are a complete waste of money.

I replied:

Sorry to hear that.

> Better to buy a camera with an interchangeable lens and add an extension tube (say Kenko). Does not have to be dslr, direct view cameras are quite popular now and they can change lenses (so add extension tubes). You will get a lot better result.

Can I still view on the computer screen in real time?
 

> Yes you can but watch out ... it will depend on the software that is bundled with the camera. Canon is not an issue, Sony should also be fine but it would be necessary to check. I do not think there are any problems though since technically it is not hard to accomplish. There are a range of cameras out there and so finding what is a sensible purchase (changeable lens plus software) may take a bit of exploring. You will get a LOT of solid advice on some of the photography forums.

Peter

And another

Allen I was very pleased with the Video-Flex camera when I taught in school. It looks like a gooseneck lamp, but with a small camera at the end. It was very easy to adjust and focus, and allowed us to view small things on a TV screen. It is still in my science catalogs, and still very popular with teachers.

Randy Oliver
Grass Valley, CA
www.ScientificBeekeeping.com

And another

Allen --

Consider OptiVISOR. Lower level of technology but does an excellent
job showing 'live' mites. I use in medical practice when I need to see
small sutures for removal.

http://www.amazon.com/Donegan--10-OptiVisor-Headband-Magnifier/dp/B0015IP380/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1320104883&sr=8-3

Good luck,

Dr. Jim

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  


click to enlarge

I notice signs that Hive four is either tearing out worker brood or had some chilled and had to to remove it.  There are a few white pupa parts on the board.  Average drops have dwindled to 5 in 24 hours, and that is in the "safe" range. 

I looked into hive five since it was not dropping much debris and I was wondering if it was OK.  The top box is foundation that has been drawn and filled in the middle, but the outer combs are not yet built.  I went o lift it off and found the cluster is halfway up into it, so I replaced it and will move it down when it is warmer.  This is definitely the type of half-drawn box that has to be removed from above the cluster.  Why the bees are that far up in the hive has yet to be discovered.

At right is a shot of the drop board with Vaseline rolled on.  First, I scrape the mites of with the broad putty knife.  I don't scrape all the grease, just the debris. 

I then lay the broad putty knife over at a flat angle to the board and smear on a very thin coating.  The I give the surface a quick roll with a foam roller.  The rolling raises a nap that catches things and holds them fast.  For my six boards, I use maybe two tablespoons of grease a day, total.

Young Mites /Total Mites

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6

Oct 26

2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12

Oct 29

0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13

Oct 30

0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18

Oct 31

0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13

Nov 1

0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

Nov 2

0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

Nov 3

0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

Nov 4

 0/2 0/9 4/15 20/37 8/23 0/9

Nov 5

0/2 0/6 3/16 12/25 0/1 0/2

Nov 6

0/3 0/1 1/5 8/19 0/2 0/5

Nov 7

0/0 0/1 0/5 21/40 0/2 0/2

Nov 8

0/3 1/3 0/3 5/16 0/2 0/2

After lunch, I went out and looked over the remaining hives.  Of the bunch, half had boxes on top which I don't consider suitable and clusters down far enough that I was able to simply remove the top box to a new stand and carry the remaining two boxes over and place them on top.  I took the opportunity to make up full pallets of the partials in the yard.  I also moved the hives off the scale.

In some cases, the lift -- two bottom boxes weighing over 100 lbs -- was quite a strain, but there are tricks to the trade.  In the process of adjusting the hives, I had to rearrange two of the test hives in that manner, so I wonder if this will affect the drops.  We'll see. 

I also got to see two screened floors while moving boxes, and counted the mites trapped in the screens and edges of one.  I counted eight.  I assume that eventually, the trapped dead mites either get carried out, or more likely drop to the sticky board when the bees get active on the floor.  It's just a guess, though.

The hive I thought was a drone layer was, but the small cluster of bees seemed quite smart, so I let them join another hive and shook out the boxes.

I then moved the pallets of bees south to the new location.

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Wednesday November 9th 2011
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This morning, it is minus seven at sunrise. Tomorrow is promising to reach plus eleven.  That is a bit warm for oxalic evaporation according to what I have read, but in some ways, I think it should be fine as long as the bees are not flying at the time of application.  I seem to recall plus five is optimal, but frankly I don't think it matters much.  Here is the temperature graph for the day we did the last treatment (October 13).  We can see the temperature in the late afternoon was dropping from plus eleven to plus five by suppertime.

Varrox instructions say: "The treatment should not be made during heavy bee flight. Furthermore, the temperature should not be below + 2C. The use of the VARROX-vaporiser is particularly suitable for the follow up treatment in brood-free colonies.".

Here is the first I really hear much about it: http://www.honeybeeworld.com/diary/articles/cor.htm

Randy summarizes the various aspects of the question here.

Dennis Murrell has had a go at it, too.

Here is some more reading

My conclusion is that Thursday should be just fine, once the bees settle down at the end of the afternoon, probably around four PM.

I wrote the following to BEE-L today:

>Packers heat and filter honey to remove pollen to extend the shelf life and >to satisfy consumer demand.... I'm thinking that we may well be the agents >of our own demise.

We have been around this one before. The problem begins with mass production of honey and the need to sell larger amounts than the local trade can absorb and in the economics of packing and distribution..

The need to store and transport honey in bulk containers, then, at some later time, divide it up into consumer containers presents a huge problem that necessarily compromises some of the subtle qualities of the honey that passes through the system. The obvious sweetness survives, but aromatics, biological qualities and other less obvious attributes of real, fresh, unprocessed honey may be attenuated or even absent after the trip to the store shelf.

Honey is at its best in the comb, and anything that is done to it to get it out and to handle it after is bound to damage it. Thus, the obvious solution is to sell only comb honey. I did that for quite a while, and it is not without its own problems.

The extracting process requires tearing off cappings, exposing the droplets of honey flying from the combs to the ambient air, then separating the inevitable wax debris from the honey. That can be accomplished with minimal damage, but often is not.

Ideally, the only debris in the honey after spinning is wax, but if the combs have been used for brood, there are cocoons, pollen, and more in the mix.

If the beekeeper is less than totally scrupulous, there may well be parts of bees and brood and their secretions, dust, gravel, dirt, nails, wood, propolis, lint, pens, ants, hair, and who knows what in the tank, too.

Large commercial systems take everything that comes from the extractors and uncappers and mixes it all together before separating the liquid from the solids. The liquid portion goes into drums or totes and is sold to packers.

Packers face a problem: production is seasonal, but the sales of honey continue year-round. Moreover, their facilities are necessarily designed to pack on a continuing basis, not in one huge surge at harvest time, so the honey has to sit in storage.

The nature of honey as a thick product that changes state does not make it any easier for the packers.

A lot of the best white honey granulates in normal storage, and heated storage is not practical since white honey darkens over time in warm temperatures, so when it comes time to pack it, it is solid. Heat is required to transform it back to liquid.

At this point, there is no way to keep the honey natural. As we can see the honey is already a long ways from the almost natural state that the beekeeper can offer to customers, and it there is not commercially feasible way to prevent further loss of honey's original qualities.

Many of those qualities are very subtle, and some are probably imaginary, but as any beekeeper knows, the best honey is found on the end of a hive tool, while standing over an open hive and anything that happens to the honey after that stage is not going to improve it.

Au contraire.

I went out and moved the last pallet of bees this morning.  I had left it sitting, since there were some bees clustered on the entrance of one hive, from the hive I had shaken out.  Again I learned the lesson that such kindness often does not work out.  I see the screen bottom and entrance covered with dead bees and a brown streak or two on the front of the floor.  Apparently the bees were either not accepted or did not find the cluster and it seems one or more of their number was in need of a flight.

I recall Medhat mentioning that screened floors get clogged late in the season, making mite drops inaccurate at best and am thinking that any screened floor I design should have a removable screen.  This is desirable for cleaning and also so that the screen could be removed when treating with formic on the tray, to prevent corrosion.  Some screens are stainless steel, but SS is costly.  Another solution is some sort of brush/scraper that reaches into entrances and removes the debris from screens.

Here is a good page:  Apiculture Factsheet #221 - Varroa Mite Controls


click to enlarge


click to enlarge

I have adjusted the left scale on the six individual graphs above to 1500 mites from the previous 1200.

Young Mites /Total Mites

Day

Hive Number

1 2 3 4 5 6

15

Oct 26

2/3 2/19 8/16 20/39 8/21 1/12

16

Oct 29

0/6 0/11 - 5/22 12/27 0/13

17

Oct 30

0/6 4/16 8/21 6/18 6/22 4/18

18

Oct 31

0/10 0/28 22/42 14/30 30/91 1/13

19

Nov 1

0/5 0/9 12/24 7/22 18/31 1/4

20

Nov 2

0/3 0/5 14/27 11/22 3/10 0/1

21

Nov 3

0/2 0/1 6/11 11/22 5/9 0/6

22

Nov 4

 0/2 0/9 4/15 20/37 8/23 0/9

23

Nov 5

0/2 0/6 3/16 12/25 0/1 0/2

24

Nov 6

0/3 0/1 1/5 8/19 0/2 0/5

25

Nov 7

0/0 0/1 0/5 21/40 0/2 0/2

26

Nov 8

0/3 1/3 0/3 5/16 0/2 0/2

27

Nov 9

0/5 2/11 11/25 6/49 0/3 0/10

Today, the drop counts are up again. 

One factor could be that I switched the top white comb boxes to the bottom of the hive on several, and moved all the hives to a new location, facing east-west instead of north-south during the 24-hr period covered by these drops.  This disturbance may have an influence on the drops.

I'm showing also the historical weather here for the last month (Source: Daily Data | Canada's National Climate Archive ) to examine if there is any correlation between the weather back 12 (sealed brood period) or 21 days (time from egg to emergence)  and the big drop days.  It is easy to count up and down on the list at right.

Looking back, I see the 30th of last month was exceptionally warm at 18 degrees. 30+12=42.  42-31= 11.  Hmmm.  So was the 18th.  18+12=30.  The 31st had an unusually big drop, too.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

Besides the possible delayed effects of weather on mite drops, one site I was reading suggested that the oxalic fog kills open brood.  If that is the case, then there could be a period after the fogging during which there is no young brood for the varroa to enter.  If so, then there should be a period of around six days starting 12 or 13 days after the fogging during which the number of young mites dropping as a percentage of total drop should be reduced.

We fogged on October 13th in the late afternoon.


(Chart from Wikipedia)

Scanning the young/total drop data  table (above), I do not see any obvious indication of any such effect, but I was not counting young and dark mites separately for the full period since treatment, and the effect, if any, would likely have shown up between days 12 and 18, since any mites emerging for the first 12 days would have already been in sealed cells and protected from the fog. and the emerging mites for the next six days (approx) would have been from the open brood (if any) at the time of treatment.  Unfortunately, I did not start doing separate counts before day 15..

From the fact that there were young mites visible in numbers during the day 15 to 18 period would indicate to me that if the fog killed any open brood, it did not affect it all.  Whether the fog had more effect (if any) on some brood stages than others is indeterminate at this point.  Feel free to look through the data and see if you can find something I missed, and please either post your thoughts in the Honey Bee World Forum. or write me.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

Why do I present these charts and comments daily, instead of summarizing and presenting a carefully corrected and reviewed result at the end?  There are several reasons.

  • First, making a daily presentation is much more fun and I get feedback. 

  • Second, I present my thinking as I go so that observers, including myself, can see how my thought evolved, and the missteps I took and mistakes I made along the way.  Too much science is presented in a fashion where it is really impossible to follow the process, and therefore suspect IMO.

    *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

From: COMPARATIVE ANALYSES OF SAMPLING METHODS FOR VARROA MITES (Varroa destmcor Anderson and Trueman) ON HONEY BEES (Apis meiliferra L .) Shawn Michael Devlin B.Sc., Simon Fraser University, 1998  (Emphasis added)

(This study is a "must-read" IMO)

In 1993, Calatayud and Verdu compared hive debris counts over a ten week period to an Apistan drop to determine if total mite load could be compared to sticky board counts before the treatment was applied. They obtained correlation coefficients of >O.98% (P ≥ 0.0000) between total mite load and the sticky-board counts of 65 days. A 65 day sticky-board count was necessary because the total mite load in al1 colonies was low (Calatayud & Verdu 1993).

In 1999. Calderone reported on sticky-board counts using a subsarnpling technique. He developed a stratified random sampling technique that allowed him to count only part of the sticky-board. His method worked well on sticky boards with a mite count of >500 mites and even better with a mite count of->1000 when 50% of the board was counted. Estimates were within 5.9% of the actual number 95% of the time on sticky boards >500 and within 5.0% of the actual number 95% on sticky boards >1000 (Calderone 1999).

In 2000, Ostiguy el al also developed a sticky board that allowed partial counting. Using a pattern like a crossword puzzle. Ostiguy used only 33% of the board to get a coefficient of determination of'0.97 or greater with a mean percent error of 0.4% + 9.5%. Her board was developed using the pattern of mite drop found on regular sticky-boards (Ostiguy et al 2000). This pattern appears to be better than the Calderone random pattern as it is effective at lower mite levels.

A comparison of hive debris counts to brood sampling and adult bee sampling was done by Fries et al. in 1991. Hive debris was compared to brood and adult bees to determine which method could detect mites first and which had the highest correlation between mites found and daily mite fall. Hive debris was more effective at detecting mites than sampling brood, which was more effective than sampling adult bees during the summer months. The highest correlations were found between daily mite fall and mites per live bee (r = 0.81) in colonies with sealed brood. Unfortunately, this study did not examine the total mite load in the colony, and the relationship between sampling method and total mite load was not calculated.

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